Helium Shortage 4.0: Preventing Helium Loss Through Automated MRI Chiller Monitoring

Helium Shortage 4.0: Preventing Helium Loss Through Automated MRI Chiller Monitoring
Posted in: Healthcare

MRI machines are an integral tool physicians use to assist with diagnosing patients and determining treatment options and efficacy. These machines also play a vital part in contributing to a facility’s net income, whether for a hospital, health system, or stand-alone imaging center. With nearly 40 million scans annually in the U.S., MRI machines are said to account for up to 37% of hospitals’ profits.

Helium’s Role in MRI Machines

Given this relatively high percentage, facility staff should be aware of the recent global helium supply shortage — dubbed Helium Shortage 4.0 — and the impact it could have on their MRI machine usage. For background, helium is necessary for MRI machines to operate correctly. Liquid helium is used to make the MRI machine’s magnetic coils cold enough (approximately -450 °F) that allows the magnet to produce a constant magnetic field that helps create images during scans.

Although helium is a limited and nonrenewable resource, global supply was scheduled to increase thanks to a new helium-processing plant near the town of Svobodny, Russia. However, after producing helium for a few weeks in September 2021, the plant caught fire in October 2021 and again in January 2022, causing experts to theorize that the plant may not resume helium production until late 2023. Those events, combined with the Russia-Ukraine War and global COVID-19-related supply chain issues still lingering, are putting the short-term helium supply in question.

Automated Monitoring to Prevent Helium Loss

This helium supply could prove troublesome for facility staff who need to buy scarce helium to chill their MRI machines. To avoid unnecessary loss of helium, which happens when MRI machines overheat due to malfunctioning MRI chillers, Primex OneVue Sense™ ChillCheck™ can help. OneVue Sense ChillCheck sensors constantly monitor the temperature and flow of an MRI chiller and the temperature and humidity of the MRI equipment room. The sensor automatically collects this data and sends it to the web-based, easy-to-access OneVue® software platform.

Within the OneVue software platform, users have access to:

  • A customizable dashboard where users can view data from multiple MRI chillers or equipment rooms on one screen
  • Historical data trends with just one click, providing data intel over a specific time frame
  • The ability to track issue resolution, which can come in handy when optimizing operations or identifying root cause issues

The data provided by OneVue Sense ChillCheck gives users predictability about their helium supply. If the data shows in-range MRI chiller flow and temperature and in-range MRI equipment room measurements, it can mean their helium supply is being used at a functional level. If the data routinely shows out-of-range conditions, then their helium supply may be dwindling and worth checking.

As helium burns faster if MRI chillers aren’t working properly, these out-of-range conditions can certainly be a cause for concern. Luckily, the OneVue Sense ChillCheck solution provides alerts via text message, phone call, or email if sensors detect an out-of-range measurement, giving staff time to investigate issues.

Avoiding MRI Downtime

These alerts, when coupled with the anywhere-accessible data that OneVue Sense ChillCheck supplies, can help facilities avoid expensive MRI downtime. Limiting the number of operable machines or the number of scans performed per day can have a substantial impact on a facility’s profits. Additionally, communicating the need to reschedule scans can be a headache for both staff and patients alike. The patient dissatisfaction caused by moving appointments around could also potentially hurt a facility’s reimbursement rate, as well.

Having around-the-clock knowledge of MRI chiller temperature and flow and MRI equipment room temperature and humidity provides peace of mind and empowers facility staff to take proactive, corrective action if undesirable conditions persist.

When one considers the current helium shortage, the global supply chain hurdles, the importance of helium to MRI machines, and how vital MRI machines are to facilities, having protective technology in place to ensure proper helium supply levels and prevent machine downtime can offer facilities a strong return on investment. The OneVue Sense ChillCheck solution can act as an additional layer of protection to help maintain valuable helium supply levels amid scarcity and keep MRI machines operable to prevent costly MRI downtime.

April 12, 2022
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